Friday’s meeting of the BBL Championship’s top two could be decided by which team adapts best to their absences.
Paul James’ side are the only team to have beaten Eagles this season, coming out on top both home and away. But their chances of completing an impressive hat-trick have not been helped by a trio of injuries.
Point guard Robertas Bitinas, himself a replacement for the injured Disraeli Lufadeju, saw his minutes limited during last weekend’s loss at London Lions due to an issue with his shoulder.
The Lithuanian is expected to return on Friday, but centre and focal point Robert Thurman is “a lot more doubtful” according to James.
Eagles are not without injury issues either, with player-coach Fab Flournoy out for the season and Andre Jones struggling with a hamstring problem.
But it could be Worcester who face a tougher task to adjust.
“We end up having to play people out of position, which leaves us with mismatches on defence,” said James.
“Sometimes it works and it causes the opposition as many problems as it causes us, but obviously when you are playing one of the top teams of the league, being without your starting centre does have a considerable impact on the way you do things.”
One more win for Newcastle would take Flournoy’s total as coach to 450 – and Eagles just two short of securing the BBL Championship.
But while it is a chance to make history for Eagles, it could also be an opening for one particular Wolves player.
James added: “It’s an opportunity for Dejan Rodajevic to come in and show what he can do and get himself some more minutes by just playing hard and playing tough.
“We are going to be going into that game with a lot of confidence, knowing that we have been able to put together a gameplan to beat Newcastle twice.
“But at the same time, they are motivated to come in and make sure it is not three times in a row.”
Last time they met:
Worcester Wolves 99 Newcastle Eagles 91 (BBL Championship, University of Worcester Arena, 09 Jan 2015)
What they say:
Eagles forward Scott Martin: “We are very excited for the game against Worcester this weekend. They have had our number this year so a win over them would be great for us to continue to build momentum as the regular season comes to an end.”
Plymouth University Raiders v Esh Group Eagles Newcastle – Saturday 4 April 2015 – Plymouth Pavilions – 7:30pm
Collective aggression is the key for Newcastle Eagles when covering the gaps left by absent stars.The league leaders are without player-coach Fab Flournoy for the rest of the season due to an achilles tear while Andre Jones also missed last weekend’s win against Surrey United and Manchester Giants with a hamstring problem.
Next up are trips to Worcester Wolves and Plymouth Raiders, and Scott Martin feels Newcastle are well equipped, in attitude, as well as personnel, to deal with the loss of two important figures on the floor.
“Obviously not having Fab and Dre on the floor was a big hit to us,” said Martin.
“Fortunately we have a very deep team this year and I feel as though that allowed us to still be able to pick up two victories over the weekend. On court the biggest adjustments we had to make were simply that we all had to be more aggressive to cover up areas we were lacking with those two guys being gone.”
“Losing those guys definitely hurts us, but I’m confident in this teams ability to rally together to find a way to win.”
Raiders found two wins against Durham Wildcats last weekend to end an eight-game slide.
Hosting the BBL Cup and Trophy winners is a different proposition, however.
Eagles require just three more wins to secure the BBL Championship, and with it, a hat-trick of titles for the season.
Jay Marriott’s men were well beaten when the teams faced off in the BBL Trophy semi-final, although Martin did identify areas where Raiders cause problems.
“The biggest threat Plymouth pose is their ability to score a lot of points in a little amount of time,” he said.
“They have a lot of different scorers on their team and we have to do a good job keeping them in check if we want to be successful.”
Last time they met:
Plymouth Raiders 99 Newcastle Eagles 104 (BBL Trophy semi-final, second leg – Eagles won 230-169 on aggregate, Plymouth Pavilions, 01 Mar 2015)
What they say:
Raiders forward Emile Hopkins: “We proved we can put up a fight against them the first time we played. It’s going to be very tough to beat this in-form team. If we give it everything for the full 40 and limit them to one shot we could sneak a victory.”